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tv   The Rachel Maddow Show  MSNBC  December 9, 2013 9:00pm-10:01pm PST

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it has conferred certain substantive advantages, but it's now burned out. karen finney, watch "disrupt" on msnbc weekends at 4pm, sam seder, "the majority report," and david sirota. thank you, that is "all in" for this evening. "the rachel maddow show" starts now. >> thank you, chris. and thank you at home for joining us this hour. you know how some news stories are just too crazy to believe? you hear them, think you're getting it from a reputable source, but you think, yeah, no, no, this can't be, no way this could be, too crazy to be an actual thing. like for example, the other day, the story of the dead mouse bodies filled up with tylenol that the u.s. government was supposedly air-dropping over a military base on guam because the mice would attract invasive brown tree snakes that were killing all the birds on the island. however, the brown tree snakes have an achilles' heel -- they apparently cannot survive eating even a single sliver of a single dose of tylenol.
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and because tylenol is inexplicably deadly to brown tree snakes that have invaded guam, the u.s. government decided to feed the snakes lethal doses of tylenol by feeding them dead mice that had tylenol in them. oh, and they also tied little individual parachutes to each mouse body so that the dead mice would get hung up in the tree canopy because the snakes prefer to eat that way. that story can't be true, right? that's insane! it sounds completely made up. painkiller-loaded dead mice parachuting into guam to solve a snake problem to save the birds. sounds like mad libs news. insert noun here, right? it sounds like it cannot possibly be a real thing. but then, here is, in fact, a homemade paper parachute for a dead, tylenol-stuffed mouse, property of the united states department of agriculture. and here are the dead
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tylenol-stuffed mice. that's them getting parachuted out of that helicopter! posthumously parachuting into guam. it happened just the other day. and it did, in fact, happen to save the native birds from those invasive brown snakes. that story sounded crazy. if you were drinking in a bar and the stranger in the next seat over tried to tell you that story, you would not have believed that dude at the bar and you might have asked for what he was having. you might not believe me, your tv host right now, and i am perfectly sober at the moment, but the dead mice parachuting into guam thing was true. that was last week. and now, here is this week's story that is even less believable, but apparently is also true. and it is a politics story. if political tricks were assembled purely from plot lines rejected from the tv show "the sopranos" for being too unrealistic, too unlikely. all right, on the first day of school this year in ft. lee, new jersey, this happened. the busiest bridge in the whole country, a bridge that carries
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tens of thousands of cars and trucks and buses every day, stopped working. not the whole bridge, just this one part. this is a section of the george washington bridge, again, busiest bridge in the entire country. this is the part of it that connects to a town called ft. lee, new jersey. normally, they've got three lanes going up to the bridge out of ft. lee, but on the first day of school in new jersey, in ft. lee, new jersey, this year, ft. lee discovered that somebody had closed down two of their three lanes. you could still get on to the bridge, but a trip that normally took 30 minutes now lasted more than four hours. happy first day of school, everybody. the backup was so bad, it gridlocked not just near the bridge, but basically, the whole town. and the closing down of those lanes was a complete surprise. that bridge is so vital to the people who live around there, that officials typically send out a press release any time they're doing any sort of construction work or closing a lane or anything else that might disrupt the commute, because the
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knock-on effects are so significant for that part of that state. this time, though, there was no notice. they didn't tell local police, didn't tell local officials. nobody knew what was coming. two of the three lanes just closed down and traffic backed up and that's how law enforcement found out it was happening. commuters could not get to work. the traffic backed up on to local streets. the school buses just sat there. they couldn't get the kids to school for first day of classes. quoting the local police chief -- "we first heard about this at 7:15 monday morning. it was the first day of school. our parents now have to get up an hour and a half earlier to get their kids to class." on monday, while all this was going on, "we had to contend with a missing 4-year-old, a cardiac arrest requiring an ambulance and a car running up against a building. what would have happened if there was a serious accident?" and because ft. lee had no warning whatsoever about what was coming, because nobody had told them that their town was about to get turned into a parking lot, people in ft. lee also had no idea when those toll
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booths are going to open up again so things could go back to normal. is this the new normal? why is this happening? but the people of ft. lee did have a few ideas about why this maybe was being done to their little town. as the situation dragged on, it wasn't just one day. it went on for day after day after day, went on all week. as the situation dragged on, drivers started calling the local newspaper, asked if somebody was trying to punish the democratic mayor of their town for not supporting the new increase in the toll that you have to pay to drive over the bridge. they asked if maybe somebody was punishing their mayor for building a new apartment building near the bridge. "one of the biggest selling points for living in ft. lee is the short commute, but if the trip to work is longer than it would be for living farther away, who would want to live here?" yeah, nice commute you've got there. be a shame if something happened to it. on the short list of the conspiracy theories for why bridge officials were strangling this one town in new jersey without any warning at all, on the short list of conspiracy
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theories was this one. the democratic mayor of ft. lee refused to endorse chris christie for re-election. "people familiar with the matter noted that the mayor had been asked and declined to endorse mr. christie for re-election two weeks before the toll booths shut down, and that mayor's town got forcibly gridlocked into a complete standstill." new jersey governor chris christie was never going to lose his re-election last month. the question was not whether he was going to win but by how much. he even moved a special election for a u.s. senate seat to a day when he would not have to be on the ballot with a popular democrat so as to not risk shrinking his margin of victory, didn't want to run on the same day that new jersey was going to pick newark mayor cory booker as their new democratic u.s. senator. governor christie's decision to hold that election on a separate-day from his own recoronation cost the state millions of dollars. chris christie made that decision, even though he led the governors race by double digits the whole way.
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on his way to his second term, chris christie got support from dozens of leading new jersey democrats, including lots and lots of local mayors, but he did not get the endorsement of the democratic mayor of ft. lee. well, then, they happened to discover one morning that ordinary life had been suspended in his town with no warning, no notice and no news of when it would end. on day four of the gridlock shutdown of ft. lee, the mayor wrote a letter to the agency that runs the bridge. "having received absolutely no notice of this decision, not having obtained any response to our multiple inquiries concerning same, and try as we may to understand its rationale without the benefit of a response, we are reaching the conclusion that there are punitive overtones associated with this initiative. what other conclusion could we possibly reach?" sounds crazy, right? it sounds like mice out of planes crazy. somebody closes down a couple of
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lanes on the on-ramp to the busiest bridge in america because they're out to get your town! it sounds crazy, right? sounds purely, purely crazy. except that new jersey is sometimes a place where you cannot rule out the crazy. new jersey is the kind of place where you can serve 20 years in office before turning up for your year and a half in jail. that was the career path of sharpe james, the one-time mayor of new jersey's largest city, newark. new jersey's the kind of place where rabbis get arrested in combination divorce-kidnap-torture scandals that involve cattle prods. and where you take bribes, explaining that you are neither the alleged money-laundering rabbi nor trafficker in human organs, but a different guy. in new jersey, they make up legends about a corrupt mayor using a desk with specially designed drawers so people who wanted to give the mayor a bribe could drop the money in more discretely. push the drawer out the other side of the desk and drop in the check. and when that myth gets
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debunked, they explain that the legendary corrupt mayor was so powerful, he would never need to collect the money himself. he didn't need a drawer like that, he had guys. new jersey is that kind of a place. and there are other places in america that are like that, but new jersey's that kind of a place. so, if you are a new jersey governor with profoundly national ambitions, then rightly or wrongly, fairly or not fairly, you have to make some sort of break from the new jersey crazy if you want to play on the national stage. you have to make a break from all of the crazy that people just assume goes along with life and politics in new jersey. when the mayor and the people of ft. lee, new jersey, started asking whether something more was up, whether their town and their mayor were being punished for this political decision, the agency that's in charge of the bridge denied that there was any sort of retaliation like that going on. they issued a written statement explaining why they gridlocked
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ft. lee, why they shut down their access to the bridge. this was the written statement -- "the port authority has conducted a week of study at the george washington bridge of traffic safety patterns. we will now review those results and determine the best traffic patterns at the bridge." but if closing two of the three lanes on to the bridge was part of a study, why did the director of the agency write a blistering letter saying he'd never heard of this study? if this was a study of traffic on the nation's single busiest bridge, then why had nobody alerted the rest of the agency, including, say, the traffic division, or, say, the engineering division, or, say, the people who worked on the bridge, or, hey, say, the local cops? good question. and despite how crazy a question it might have seemed, the question was not going away. last month, the "wall street journal" reported that those lanes were closed on that bridge on the orders of a single person, a guy hired by an appointee of governor christie. "wall street journal" reported that on the sunday before the
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traffic jams began -- remember, the traffic jams began first day of school, monday morning -- the sunday before, that official called the bridge and told them to shut down two of those three lanes. the guy who gave the order, it turns out, is a former high school classmate and friend of governor christie's. he worked as a political blogger in new jersey before going to work for the governor. and according to the "wall street journal," he showed up that monday morning on the first day of school, when the school buses couldn't get through, when nobody could move, when the gridlock was astounding in ft. lee to the point where nobody could conduct their daily business. he showed up that morning on the new jersey side of the bridge and "looked out over the traffic jam" that he helped create. again, supposedly for a traffic study that the traffic department did not know was coming and that does not appear to exist in agency records. do you believe this story? last month, the democrats in the new jersey legislature hauled in another top official from the bridge authority and asked him
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about this supposed traffic study. >> this hearing is about the lack of communication and the poor conduct of the port authority -- you are here trying to cover that up. >> there's no -- hold on, assemblywoman -- >> i want to know whether or not you have an e-mail trail. >> that's nonsense. >> you're telling me this study that had a major disruption on your major bridge has no paper trail, that there is not a single e-mail that explains how this was done? >> assemblywoman, i have sat here -- >> that defies all logic and nobody in this room believes that! >> i love new jersey. that was the week before thanksgiving. democrats in the new jersey state house openly questioning whether bridge officials are telling the truth or whether something else happened here and something bigger is at stake. last week, governor christie just started joking openly about the conspiracy theories here, saying, oh, yeah, he was the guy who was working the traffic cones on the bridge that day, ha, ha!
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he said, i did it funny me, ha, ha. but on friday? look what happened. governor christie's old high school buddy, the guy who reportedly ordered those lanes closed and then showed up to watch the chaos that ensued, late in the day on friday, he very quietly quit. he resigned, saying that he had become a distraction. and so, maybe this crazy story is at least not only funny right now. today it took at least another dramatic turn. two officials told new jersey lawmakers at a hearing today that they were directed not to let anybody know about the changes that were planned for the bridge that day. they were told to shut down the bridge and told to tell no one they were doing it. they said they worried about what would happen if they broke the chain of command that way by not alerting anyone, as they would usually do. asked by lawmakers whether keeping silent at the time seemed wrong, one of those bridge workers told lawmakers today, yes, yes, it did. so, crazy story. maybe even a really crazy story. maybe even something really crazy with national implications. but could this story about the
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busiest bridge in america be so very crazy that it is true? could this possibly be true? and how is new jersey going to figure out if it's true? joining us now is new jersey democratic assemblyman john wisniewski, the chairman investigating this whole thing. thank you for being here. >> rachel, thank you for having me again. >> i, as you can tell, am completely mesmerized by this story. i have to ask you if i got any of the details wrong in explaining it. i know you're deep in the woods in explaining this. >> no, i think you've hit all the high points on it. it's mystifying, frustrating, aggravating all at the same time. we have the busiest bridge in america in new jersey, crossing over to new york, and we have one unaccountable official who makes a phone call and says close those lanes and don't tell anyone. don't tell your boss, don't tell the police, don't tell the people of ft. lee, just do it. >> the thing that makes this sort of amazing, that gives it the gape factor -- people sort
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of can't help but stare at it -- is how petty it is. if it is political retaliation, this is an incredibly obnoxious and vindictive and stupid act of political retribution. so, the question remains whether or not political retribution can be proven as the motive here. but even without that, can you help us understand the kind of impact of this decision? i mean, it seems like it would have a pretty significant, not just hassle factor implication, but also an economic implication. >> it has so many implications. first of all, everybody who uses that entrance -- and it's not just the people who live in ft. lee. clearly, they use it. >> yeah. >> but lots of people use that entrance because they know it's there and they find a quick way to get on the bridge. all of those people going to job interviews, going to work, taking their children to school, going to doctors, all late, all delayed by hours. thank god there wasn't a major issue that required first aid or a fire department response. the entire town of ft. lee was gridlocked. it was a parking lot. you could not move across town. this was because of one man making a phone call. and as to whether it's political
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retribution, look, it's either gross incompetence on the management of the nation's busiest bridge or it's political incompetence by people who thought they could get away with something like this in broad daylight. either way, it stinks. >> the first explanation was this traffic study, which they could never substantiate and which seems to have been, from my perspective, seems to be debunked at this point. they produce no paper that suggests a study was being done, no results of that, nobody knew it was coming and nobody was notified. the next explanation was, ah, ft. lee shouldn't have those lanes anyway, so we were thinking of what we could do to screw with ft. lee. that seems like it's probably not going to fly. anyway, is there any competing explanation that's potentially innocent in terms of whether this -- i guess not innocent. is there a potential explanation that has arisen that is not about politics, that is about something else with regard to the bridge rather than retaliation? >> well, the explanation has morphed as time has gone on. >> yeah. >> the initial statement was it was a traffic safety study. when we heard from a deputy
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executive director baroni a couple weeks ago it was about the fairness of having lanes from ft. lee. and today, his boss, the executive director, said there was no study. so, was it "a," was it "b" or was it "c"? and we have two of the lower employees saying it was mr. wildstein who told us to close the lanes, but we were afraid to report this to anybody else. they were afraid for their jobs. >> so, the reason that this story has national implications is not just because it is a very busy bridge and it has economic implications, it's because of chris christie being the closest thing the republican party has to a sure bet for running for president, running for the presidency. and if he runs, and it seems like he will, he'll start off as a top-tier candidate and maybe the only top-tier candidate in the country on the republican side. do you believe that this sort of action is representative of the way that his administration has conducted themselves in new jersey? >> it's clear he can't be trusted to run a toll bridge.
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i don't know how he could be trusted to run a country. >> he denies any responsibility. he says i had nothing to do with this, i don't get involved with little low-lying stuff like that. >> of course not. with his high school friend being the number three man at port authority, he knew absolutely nothing about it? i find that hard to believe. >> senator john wisniewski, chairman of the investigative committee investigating this matter. stay in touch with me. i'm so fascinated, i can't stop reading about it and it's hurting my other work. >> thank you. appreciate it, rachel. >> we'll be right back. [ male announcer ] alka-seltzer plus presents the cold truth. [ sniffles, coughs ] shhhh! shhhh. [ coughs ] i have a cold with this annoying runny nose. [ sniffles ] i better take something. [ male announcer ] truth is, dayquil cold and flu doesn't treat all that. it doesn't? [ male announcer ] nope. [ sniffles ] alka-seltzer plus fights your worst cold symptoms plus has a fast acting antihistamine to relieve your runny nose. oh, what a relief it is! [ man ] shhhh! for fast cold and flu relief, day or night, try alka-seltzer plus day and night liquid gels.
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in 1 super fiber. if you're in arizona, phoenix, arizona, and you head due east, out past tempe, out past mesa, arizona, if you head due east on, i kid you not, the superstition highway, toward the superstition mountains, some time before you get to the lost dutchman state park in the superstition mountains -- yes, these are all real places! thank you, arizona! if you are on the superstition highway and on your way to the lost dutchman, you will eventually find yourself on the way in apache junction, arizona. it's about 30 miles east of phoenix. and on friday, in apache junction, arizona, congress came to town. this is one of the best stunts that congress does. when they feel like it, when they feel like circumstances warrant, congress can road trip, they can road trip whole congressional committees out into the country. they call them field hearings. and the idea is that congress needs to fact-find out in the
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world in a way that they cannot do if they stay in washington, d.c. they need to get out to the people and see for themselves and hear what's really going on close to the ground so as to avoid the selection bias that occurs when you only hear from witnesses who can get themselves to d.c. and so, darrell issa, the republican chairman of the house oversight committee, who is rather known for his showmanship, darrell issa has started recently taking his oversight committee out on the road. they've been holding field hearings around the country on health reform, which is what he was doing on the superstition highway in apache junction, arizona, on friday afternoon. here's the thing, though. nobody's allowed to speak at the hearings. anybody who turns up for the hearings is not allowed to testify at them, no matter if you sign up in advance, no matter if you call and ask if you can testify, no matter if you sit there patiently and raise your hand, you can't talk if you go to his gig, because congressman issa has set out the
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ground rules in advance for exactly what he wants to hear at his hearings. this is amazing. look at this. this is in advance of the hearing at apache junction. congressman issa wrote an op ed in the local paper explaining what kind of testimony he wanted to hear at his hearing. he said the committee wanted to hear specifically, "from individuals who have felt the impact of increased premiums and dropped insurance coverage as a result of obama care." "tell us how obama care has negatively impacted you." at friday's fact-gathering process. and if obama care has not affected you in a way that is not negative? well, that will not be part of this hearing. look at the local coverage from "the arizona republic." the only four witnesses invited to testify were residents who said they have been negatively affected by the health care program. audience members were not permitted to speak. a group of local seniors
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gathered outside the hearing in support of health care reform. an arizona department of corrections retiree from apache junction said he hadn't been able to find insurance for his wife, prediabetic and has high blood pressure, until the affordable care act was here. "my income was less than $60,000. through the affordable care act, we can get insurance for less than $350 a month. it is the only hope i have in the world of having health care for my wife." another man said he was sexually assaulted in 2004 and contracted hiv. the affordable care act assures that he can get insurance, despite his pre-existing condition and he can keep it without worrying about a lifetime spending limit. he says, "it costs $40,000 a year for medications for me to stay alive. a lifetime spending limit makes your life a time bomb." the hiv-positive man and several others told "the arizona republic" that they asked to be included on the witness list for darrell issa's hearing but they were denied. and it turns out, the republicans did the same thing three weeks ago in georgia. nobody with a positive story
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about health care was allowed to testify. the people with positive stories to tell? they were kept outside the hearing, trying to get in. they were not allowed to speak. and, it turns out, the republicans did the same thing two weeks ago as well. they drove in from neighboring states. they drove up from atlanta, they applied in advance to give their own testimony about how they liked the law and how it helped them. they were not allowed to speak. the meetings are only for people who hate the law. nobody else talks. i said three weeks ago in georgia, two weeks ago in georgia, three weeks ago in north carolina. perhaps a little bit stung by all the people turning up at these field hearings, saying, hey, wait a minute, all the witnesses are saying the same thing. we have something to say, too, that's different than what they all have to say. perhaps stunned by that criticism, now that they've tried to pull off a few of these stunts and the local press keeps noticing the one-sided nature of the hearings in all of these towns and states, perhaps stunned by that, congressman issa did finally say in arizona on friday that he wouldn't mind hearing from people who do like the law.
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he said, if anybody has had positive experiences with the affordable care act and they'd like to let his committee know, you could please e-mail him. e-mail him your positive stories. meanwhile, the house republicans will keep holding these field hearings as a sort of traveling road show where they advance book testimony only from people who agree in advance to say what the republicans are there to hear. so, it's less of a hearing, more of a pageant, really. darrell issa's rich pageant of prearranged criticism may be coming to your town soon, so, do please keep an eye out. ♪ i want to spread a little love this year ♪
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a few weeks ago on the show, i mentioned the wonder that is "duck dynasty." if you haven't watched it, you owe it to yourself to watch it just so you understand your country, in the sense that you need to understand what everybody else is watching. "duck dynasty" is a phenomenon like no other on the tv machine in america. in america, yes, it's true, "duck dynasty" wins everything when it comes to reality tv. and why shouldn't it? "duck dynasty" is the most-watched reality tv show thing in the history of reality tv show things. in america, "duck dynasty" rightly is the king. in other countries, reality tv is different. ♪
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>> a very unexpected contender from today's news for "debunction junction" tonight for "arabs got talent," for prison news, for senator rand paul's efforts to find an african-american audience in detroit. we are in an unexpectedly busy time in the news cycle, and it turns out, some of it is bunk. "debunction junction" is coming up in a moment. la's known definitely for its traffic,
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we didn't get into business to spend time managing receipts, that's why we have ink. we like being in business because we like being creative, we like interacting with people. so you have time to focus on the things you love. ink from chase. so you can. in one picture, this is what's going on in the federal court system. this is as of last month. as you can see here, the number of federal judges who are appointed by republican presidents and also the number of federal judges who are appointed by democratic and republican presidents, they are equal numbers. it's an even split. mazel tov! we have parody in the federal court system. but what is really, really
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interesting about this even split in the court system is that this, it turns out, is not the whole picture. this is the whole picture, because in addition to the even split between judges appointed by republicans and judges appointed by democrats, there are also 93 vacancies, 93 seats on the federal courts that have no judge in them right now, and that, therefore, could be filled by president obama if he had nominees for those seats and if those nominations could get through the senate. in june, president obama put forward three nominees for three vacancies on one particularly important federal court that sits in d.c. at the rose garden ceremony where he put forward those three nominees, the president said, "what i am doing today is my job. i need the senate to do its job." republicans in the senate, though, decided that they were going to block all three of those nominees. now, interestingly, they had no objections to any of the judges as judges. they did not even try to make the case that they found anything about them objectionable. one of the nominees worked in the george w. bush administration as an assistant solicitor general. republicans had no problem with any of these people being judges, no substantive problems. they just didn't want president obama to be able to sit his own nominees on that court, no matter who the nominees were.
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there are judicial vacancies, but they don't want president obama to fill those vacancies, so the republicans blocked those three nominees. and the democrats responded by being very upset, as usual, right? exclaiming about how terrible it all was and threatening! oh, boy, did they threaten, like they always do. the democrats huffed and they puffed and got very upset, just like they always do when republicans do stuff like this, except this time, they actually huffed and puffed and did blow the house down. the democrats made good on their threats, blowing everybody's minds in the process. democrats finally decided to do something about the fact that republicans were blocking the president's nominations just because they didn't want this particular president to be able to do that particular part of the job of being president. democrats responded to that by changing the rules in the senate. they took away senate republicans' ability to block judges with just a minority of votes. now, any judge who can get a majority, any judge who can get 51 votes in the senate gets confirmed.
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republicans cannot block judicial nominees anymore unless they can get a majority of senators to agree with them. and it is interesting in terms of the political combat, right? democrats standing up for themselves! hmm. it's interesting in terms of those three nominees who were blocked through no fault of their own. but in the big picture, this is really, really, really interesting mostly because it's so stupid, right? i mean, for republicans, this was terrifically bad strategy. i mean, maybe they thought democrats would never actually follow through on their threats and change the rules, but when the democrats did follow up on their threats and they changed the rules, look at the trade-off the republicans made. i mean, what happened is in order to block three appointees to one court, in order to push the envelope as far as possible to block these three judges who they didn't even dislike, republicans in the senate torpedoed their own ability to block any more judges going forward indefinitely. thus, all but insuring those
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three judges who they objected to are going to get their jobs, but also, maybe another 93 judges are going to get named as well. there are 93 vacancies, 93 federal judges who can now be appointed by a democratic president, and the republicans can no longer block that president from seating his nominees with only a minority of votes. that change happens in the senate on november 21st. and then the senate promptly adjourned. and today was the first day that we are going to have washington's new rules in action. today was the first day of the new, changed washington. today the senate had scheduled their very first vote. they had scheduled a vote on the nomination of one of those three judges who the republicans had blocked before but who they are now powerless to block, and it was all this speculation today about what the republicans were going to do with that vote. do they have a trick up their sleeve, right? is there something else they could try to do to disrupt this process in some other way that nobody's seen before? the republicans keep saying they're going to get their revenge and democrats will be
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sorry for what they did. what are republicans going to do? this is unchartered territory as of today. first vote after this big, historic, long-threatened, never-done-before rules change. what are the republicans going to do? what's going to happen? no idea. no idea! because it turns out, ah, snow day. yeah, snow day in washington today. schools were closed, the federal government opened late and the senate was basically snowed out. they canceled almost everything. they did have that judge vote on the schedule, but snow day. if you watched any east coast nfl games yesterday, you know that it was snowing. and because of the hard weather on the east coast, senators got stranded in their home states, they couldn't get back to washington for votes, so they moved all of today's votes to tomorrow. but hey, look, here's the weather forecast for tomorrow, chance of snow on tuesday in washington? chance of snow 100%. so, if today was a snow day, who knows if it's going to happen tomorrow, either. when senators do finally tunnel their way like molemen back into
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the u.s. capitol building, what are they going to do? what's the new normal? they're going to be operating under this whole set of new rules they have never operated under before. do the republicans have trick up their sleeves to sort of stymie what the democrats think they can do now? do they have other things they can do to try to stop the nominations from going forward or stopping the senate wholesale? these nominees have been bottlenecked, it's not just judges, it's the new chair of the federal reserve. the nominee is janet yellen. it's the nominee to be director of homeland security, jeh johnson. are all of these nominees now going to get a vote or do republicans have something in mind? by the way, if the bottleneck is cleared, are those 93 vacancies on the federal bench all now going to get filled in, too, all in a rush, all at once? so far, the weather report says no. the political report, however, is cloudier at this point and harder to read. joining us to help is ryan grim, washington bureau chief for "the huffington post." mr. grim, nice to see you. thanks for being here.
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>> thanks for having me. >> we're all set for this showdown, this historic vote on patricia millet, pen there's a snow day. there is speculation of what republicans would have done if it hadn't been knowing. did you have any idea what their strategy was going to be or what their plans are? >> there isn't much they can do, because they're operating more or less under the same rules they used to, it's just that the number of votes needed to move forward is different. you know, they could make a motion to adjourn and they could force a couple of show votes, but as long as everybody's there in the senate, they can get through the snow and they can cast their votes, say, no, we're not adjourning, they can only push it off for a couple hours. you know, they have a bigger problem in that there are, as you said, there are 93 judges. and in the senate, you can't call up all 93 and just run them right through, because each one has to go through some amount of hours of cloture period. and you know, the senate moves so slowly that you actually do
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then start running into, say, the july recess. >> in terms of the next steps here, do we -- there had been some noise from the republicans that they might stop everything in the senate, that they wouldn't just make this a fight over nominees, that they would refuse to do even the regular business of the senate. do you expect to see any of that? we already are seeing some noises that they're going to do things like passing a defense bill. >> right, exactly. so, the minority party, when the majority threatens to change the rules always says if you do that, we are going to gum everything up, we're going to make life so difficult for you that you won't be able to govern this chamber. but that's a threat and it's an empty threat. and the reason is that it makes sense in general to say something like that, but when something specific comes up, like a defense bill, it doesn't help you back at home, say, well, why did you block this defense bill? oh, i blocked it because i was upset about a rules change they had made two months earlier. that doesn't fly. so, once individual things start moving, they just start moving
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and life gets back to normal. and you're right, they did that, they threw a tantrum over a defense bill right before a recess, so that didn't move. and so, it sat there for a couple weeks. but things are going to start moving, you know, as they get back now. it's one of those empty threats that is always made. democrats didn't back down. they changed the rules anyway and republicans are now kind of stuck with it. >> ryan, to that point, when we got the announcement today that because of snow there would be no votes today, after that point, we did actually get a vote on extending the plastic gun ban. if almost no senators were back at the capitol and back in washington and so many people were stranded, how were they able to take that plastic gun vote? >> that's actually a perfect example. so, the way they do a vote like that is they send out what's called a hotline to every senate office. they say, we want to pass this by unanimous consent. if you object, just tell us, and we won't do it, or we'll put it on the floor and we'll make one person object just so that we can have that show. so, they sent this hotline out. and nobody objected. everybody said, look, yes, this
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is a gun law that we want to see passed. i know there's a lot of pressure to do something about this expiring plastic gun law. and so, they passed it. and so, this is after there had been these threats that nothing would get through the senate. and it steps back on that specific reverse general logic. it's fine in general to say you're going to stop everything, but then this law comes forward and they say, well, actually, that we're going to let pass. >> ryan grim with "the huffington post," a provider of much-needed perspective, thanks for your time. >> thanks, rachel. straight ahead, another installment of "debunction junction" now with extra singing. luckily none of it by me. many stay with us. david rivera. rivera, david. stay with us.fedex one rate. david rivera. simple, flat rate shipping with the reliability of fedex. would you like apple or cherry? cherry. oil...or cream?
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this was the scene earlier today inside the south african embassy in washington, d.c. vice president joe biden and his wife, dr. jill biden, visiting that embassy this morning to officially sign the book of condolences for nelson mandela. vice president biden was received at the embassy by south africa's ambassador to the u.s. mr. biden said at the meeting that nelson mandela was "the most remarkable man i ever met in my whole career." a few hours before the vice president's trip to the embassy, president obama and first lady michelle obama boarded "air force one" to start the long,
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16-hour flight to south africa, where they will attend the memorial service for nelson mandela that will be held tomorrow morning. as we speak, world leaders from every corner of the globe are on their way to south africa for that memorial service and for the funeral and other events that are going to take place there over the next few days. the american delegation to south africa includes not only president obama and the first lady, but also three former presidents, george w. bush will be there and president clinton and jimmy carter. this appears to be on the second time in u.s. history that that many presidents, four living presidents, will be together, somewhere outside the united states. the only other time that has ever happened in history was at the funeral of jordan's king hussein back in 1999, when the president was bill clinton and he was joined by three of his presidential predecessors. but four u.s. presidents all together, all at once, that will be part of the remarkable scene tomorrow morning inside africa's largest soccer stadium in soweto. you may remember this from the
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amazingly large chorus of zuvela. when south africa hosted the world cup in 2010. when president obama left the white house this morning, it was unclear if he would be asked to speak at the memorial service at the stadium, but now we know that he will be win one of six world leaders delivering remarks at the event. it will be our president along with the presidents of brazil, namibia, india, cuba, as well as the vice president of china. after tomorrow's memorial service, nelson mandela's body will lie in state for three days in the capital city of pretoria, before he's finally laid to rest in his childhood home of qunu. it will be among the largest gathering of world leaders in
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human history. this is going to be a big deal. and if you want to see it given that you are awake right now and hearing the sound of my voice, you may want to set your dvr right now for the morning. msnbc will have live coverage of the memorial service starting at 4:00 a.m. eastern time. it is the miracle of time zones, right? the starting time for the live service tomorrow morning in johannesburg is 4:00 a.m. here on msnbc. we'll be right back. vo: two years of grad school. 20 years with the company. thousands of presentations. and one hard earned partnership. it took a lot of work to get this far. so now i'm supposed to take a back seat when it comes to my investments? there's zero chance of that happening. avo: when you work with a schwab financial consultant,
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check on a claim...you know, all with the ah, tap of my geico app. oh, that's so cool. well, i would disagree with you but, ah, that would make me a liar. no dude, you're on the jumbotron! whoa. ah...yeah, pretty much walked into that one. geico anywhere anytime. just a tap away on the geico app. debungs junction what's my function. true or false. this was the audience at the republican party's african-american outreach event in detroit on friday. the republican party threw an african-american outreach event, but they held it for an almost all-white audience. is that true or is that false? true. these pictures from anne savidge
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at the awesome michigan politics site at collect-a-blog. and they showed the audience at the grace bible chapel in detroit, as senator rand paul hosted as what was billed as a celebration of the opening of the republican party's african-american engagement office in detroit. if you were trying to attract black voters to the republican party, it is a mysterious decision to pick the guy who could not say he supported the civil rights act, the guy who hired the masked confederate southern avenger guy as his staffer and to cowrite his book. it would be hard to imagine a worse person to choose in 2013 to roll out the welcome mat to black voters. but if you do, choose that guy to try to attract black voters. this is apparently what you get for turnout. that is true. okay. next up, true or false. although president obama wants to close guantanamo and put the prisoners there on trial or send them home, congress is blocking that from happening. is that true or is that false? false, kind of.
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at least as of tomorrow, it is probably false. ever since president obama announced his plans to close guantanamo, congress really has been blocking him from sending prisoners to their home countries or transferring them to the real court system. you'll recall that in the '08 campaign, it was barack obama who said he would close guantanamo, running against john mccain, who said he would close guantanamo, both vying to replace president george w. bush, who also said we should close guantanamo. this did not used to be a controversial thing. but then president obama actually got inaugurated and congress freaked out, republicans and democrats in congress both. they've used the defense bill every year since 2009 to stop president obama from transferring guantanamo prisoners to their home countries, even if they have been cleared for release. but now, tonight, republicans and democrats in the house and the senate say the new defense bill for this year will start to drop those restrictions, finally. so the obama administration will finally be able to start sending home some of the dozens of guantanamo prisoners who are cleared for release, who have only had congress standing in
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the way. that is the plan, at least, the vote should be tomorrow. snow permitting. okay, finally, this is the best one. is it true or is it false that the american singer who is a new international superstar in classical arabic singing does not speak arabic? here she is singing what i am told is a near-perfect rendition of a famous arabic love song. ♪ >> that is jennifer grout, a 23-year-old woman from boston, singing a classical love song on "arab's got talent," a competition airing out of beirut. but is it true or false that this u.s. superstar in classical arabic singing does not speak arabic? is that true or is that false? true. it is true. turns out you don't have to speak it to sing it. she is a classically trained
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vocalist who studied at mcgill university in canada. she tells "the guardian" newspaper that she has a natural affinity for picking up accents, but not a natural affinity for picking up languages. here she is auditioning for the show. >> sorry? >> what's your name? >> jenny. okay! ♪ ♪ [ cheers and applause ] >> jennifer, jennifer. jennifer, jennifer, jennifer. >> she did so well, singing in arabic, that she made it all the way to the finale this past
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weekend and she almost won. she almost won the "arab's got talent" competition singing arabic songs and, yes, speaking no arabic whatsoever. it's true and amazing. it's true and amazing. and humbling in about 9,000 different ways. that does it for us tonight. now it's time for "the last word with lawrence o'donnell." have a great night. today, republicans were called heartless about unemployment benefits and clueless when talking to women voters, again. >> the steadily improving economy is actually on the horizon. >> a budget deal by the end of the week. >> of course there's a caveat. >> but at what cost for the unemployed. >> congress has just five days left. >> federal benefits expire at the end of the year, to vote to extend the unemployment benefit program. >> i do support unemployment benefits for the 26 weeks they're paid for. >> the republican argument from senator rand paul. >> if you extend it beyond that, you do a disservice to these workers.

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